photoblogography - Just some stuff about photography

Just some photos

better than nothing I suppose

in Photography , Wednesday, December 21, 2011

No time to blog. No time for anything but work and Christmas / family stuff. I’ve written several posts in my head, including an overdue review of Bruce Percy’s Making of 40 Photographs, a catastrophically late of Roberto Buzzini’s fabulous Via Alta della Vallemaggia, and a sort of reply to Mike Johnston’s list of desirable cameras. But they remain in my head.

So, instead, here’s some of this month’s random walk-by Ricoh GR shots, straight from camera JPEGs, no editing whatsoever.

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some deep & meaningful street photography

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the obligatory morning coffee shot

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commuter hell

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so near, so far

I’m off for a mercifully short trip to the Untied Kingdom for the first time in ages. So here it is, Merry Christmas.


My other camera is a Ricoh

a confession

in Ricoh , Friday, December 09, 2011

Well, one of my other cameras is a Ricoh. Actually 3 of them are…

I’ve written quite a lot of stuff here about the Olympus E-System cameras I use, but I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned my long-standing relationship with Ricoh. Since I’ve been using my Ricoh GR film and digital cameras for something close to 15 years, I thought it was time to redress the situation.

I first encountered Ricoh cameras back in 1998 when I was looking for a replacement for my broken-down Minox 35GT to take on a trip to Venezuela. The shop I went to, a Minox / Leica specialist, recommended I look at the new Ricoh GR-1 instead. The GR was a beautifully built camera, in a magnesium shell, with a fixed focal f2.8 28mm lens, and full manual control. I bought it on the spot, and never regretted it. In fact in marked a turning point for me in photography, as it really opened my eyes to what difference a quality lens can make. And the Ricoh GR lens was up with the best - so much that it was recast as a limited edition and very sought after Leica SM-mount lens.

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The GR-1S doing what’s it better than me at: street photography

If the GR-1 had a downside it was, at least for me, reliability. My GR-1’s autofocus module broke and had to be replaced out of warranty. It wasn’t cheap. I later added a GR-1S as a backup: the main difference between the 1 and 1S was a threaded lens ring to which filters and a lens hood could be added. Again, I got great results from it, but again it failed, this time the film transport giving up. Ricoh also released a GR-1V, which had a sort of manual focus option and, at last, manual ISO setting. Later they also released the GR-21, with the same body but a fabulous 21mm GR lens. Unfortunately the price of the GR-21 was stratospheric, and it arrived too late on the market to hold its own against the digital tide.

Roll on several years, and Ricoh finally responded to calls from the GR user community and released a digital version, the GR Digital, or “GRD”. The GRD carried on the GR philosophy, in a similar but slightly smaller body, but with an 8Mpx digital sensor, and, unfortunately, no optical viewfinder. The GR lens was reborn as a 28mm equivalent, f2.4. The optical viewfinder issue was sort of solved with a rather expensive external viewfinder, but since this displays no shooting information, it is a bit of a compromise. The biggest problem with the GRD was the excessive time between captures, at least when recording RAW (and honestly, I can’t really understand why anybody in the market for such a specialist camera would be shooting exclusively JPEG).

A year or so later the GR Digital 2 solved several of these issues, and also came in a “creative kit” with a 21mm adapter and a new, smaller optical viewfinder. The pixel count increased to 10Mpx. After some hesitation between this and the equally attractive, but different, Ricoh GX-200, I decided it was time to take the plunge. The GRD2 has been with me for a while now. It’s as much a pleasure to use as it’s film ancestor, and Ricoh have carried across their unparalleled attention to the user experience to the digital domain. The camera has probably the best menu system on the market, across all classes, and beautifully designed features like the adjust lever and other manual controls, and the high level of customisation make it apparent that this camera was designed by people who take photographs and understand photographers. Added to this Ricoh was one of the few manufacturers to adopt the DNG format for Raw files, making software incompatibilities largely vanish.

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A sort of thematically linked shot from the GRD2

If the GRD2 has one downside, it is, once again, reliability. Maybe I’m unlucky, or maybe I’m careless, but for some reason my GRD2 has become quite reluctant to start up. On power up, the lens extends, and the camera is ready to go. Except when it isn’t. Mine starts up, extends then lens, and then quite often hunts a bit, and then gives up. It can take several attempts to coax it into life, by which time the opportunity is usually miles away.

The GRD2 also has an excellent macro mode, allowing focussing down to 1cm, really taking advantage of the fantastic lens.

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A macro shot from the GRD2

Many people use the GRDs for black & white work. There’s a whole Flickr gallery devoted to this, and probably others. Apparently the GRD1 was particularly good for this, the later models slightly less so. Anyway the GRD2 has worked for me.

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Somewhere in California: a black & white conversion from the GRD2

It’s also an interesting infrared camera, just about hand-holdable at ISO200 in strong sunlight.

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Somewhere on an island: an infrared capture, b&w conversion from the GRD2

The GRD3 came along some time later, with an improved f1.9 lens, an improved, but still, thankfully, a 10Mpx sensor, Ricoh being one of the first companies to opt out of the pointless and counterproductive megapixel war. However, there wasn’t really enough here for me to be tempted to upgrade. A nice thing about all these upgrades is that Ricoh kept them very anonymous. All 3 versions simply have “GR Digital” written on the front, and “Ricoh” on the back. Nothing else. Only a GRD owner could tell them apart, and even then not without a careful look. Ricoh certainly are not making their customers pay to buy a mobile advertising banner, unlike the vast majority of other camera manufacturers.

Ricoh’s introduction of the totally bonkers GXR system, looking a lot like a GRD on steroids, only with interchangeable lens/sensor modules, made many fear that the GRD, and the GX for that matter, had reached the end of the road. GX + GR = GXR. However, a GRD4 has in fact recently seen the light, and in carries on in the tradition of it’s predecessors in looking pretty much exactly the same, and carrying just the label “GR digital”. The new stuff this time around is pretty interesting: stabilisation, new hybrid autofocus, a new state of the art LCD, even better menu system and even more customisation. These, combined with the GRD3’s updates, makes the GRD4 seem a worthy update over the GRD2, even if unfortunately due to the different lens housing the GRD2’s 21mm and lens hood adaptors don’t fit.

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Up close: a macro shot from the GRD4

Ricoh cameras, especially the GRs, have that mysterious factor which attracts a devoted following. For some reason there also seems to be high correlation between GR fans and Olympus owners - I don’t know why, it’s just an observation. There’s a Ricoh forum, which is largely dedicated to the GR, although the GX and GXR get a share of activity. There’s plenty of GR goodness on Wouter Brandsma’s blog. Sean Reid’s review at Reid Reviews (subscription required, but well worth it) starts off with the thought “why doesn’t every serious photography have this camera ?”.

Indeed… well, provided you enjoy a 28mm field of view!


Oh dear, Olympus….

just a pointless rant

in General Rants , Friday, November 11, 2011

I’m not completely unaware of the current misfortunes of the Olympus Optical Co. That the company is being steered into the abyss by a bunch of arrogant management jerks is no great surprise - that’s one thing that there’s no shortage of.  If anything it might serve to at least tone down some of the more unpleasant aspects of Japanese culture, such as the pathetic obessession with “loss of face”. But never mind all that. What I’m find really disturbing is the general level of idiocy revealed on the various interweb fora, where people (I use the word reservedly) are practically foaming at the mouth in outrage at Olympus and of course Olympus cameras (I really am starting to believe that, yes, most people in the world ARE more stupid than me, at least on the evidence I see). 

But it does sort of make me wonder if maybe I need to think about changing camera systems.  But not for long. I am worried that Olympus will go out of business, which is certainly possible, but not because I’ll lose face because I’ve got an Olympus (actually the logo is taped over. Has been for years. Helps avoid idiot conversations), but because the ONLY company making a reasonably large-sensor camera with a 4:3 aspect ratio might stop doing so. And then what ? Yep, only choice will be the mindless apeing of the 35mm frame, a ratio which only came about by happenstance in the first place.  Well, maybe Panasonic will carry on, or buy Olympus, who knows.

I’m finding I take more and more vertical format shots, without really being conscious of this. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t in “35mm format” - it’s too narrow.  Without Olympus, the next step above compacts is, er, the Pentax 645D, which I’d love to own, but is way above my pay grade.

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Steppin’ out… actually taken with my Ricoh GR, not an Olympus

Actually for selfish reasons I sort of hope Olympus does go down the plughole. Then the lemmings will rush to buy Nikons or whatever and even fewer people will be shooting 4:3, and I’ll have less competition. Not that I’m competing.



retail therapy

(in reverse)

in Photography , Sunday, October 23, 2011

This is time of year where the days draw shorter, where weekends get taken up with life’s trivia, and going out to take photographs just doesn’t happen.  And in fact I’m getting a but tired with all the trappings of photography, and can’t help but wonder what it’s all for.

So it’s a good time to re-discover the Ricoh GR Digital slipped into my jacket pocket.  This wonderful little cult camera is such a pleasure to use that it demands that photo opportunities be found.  Even after a hard saturday afternoon’s shopping.

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Caffeinated. Ricoh GR Digital in B&W mode, Ilford FP5+ simulation in Nik Silver Efx Pro.

I know of a least two great photographers working daily with this camera (and similar models), Mitch Alland, who’s street photography from Bangkok is endlessly fascinating, and Wouter Brandsma, who’s transformation of everyday trivia into photographic art is an inspiration.  Not really what I do, but that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate it.


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